Canada basketball
Canada Basketball

Top five showdown set for Saturday as No. 4 Canada and No. 3 Spain clash at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Canada (1-1) vs. Spain (2-0)

When: Saturday, July 31st, 9:00 p.m. ET (Sunday, August 1st, 10:00 a.m. JT)

Where: Saitama Super Arena

Where things stand:

One and one: After a huge 73-54 bounce-back victory against Korea, Team Canada is now 1-1 in Tokyo. Saturday’s match-up against Spain will be the team’s third and final game in the Group Phase. While Canada is looking for their second victory in Tokyo, Spain enters Saturday's game as the lone undefeated team in Group A with a 2-0 record after victories against Korea and Serbia.

Sharing the love: Canada defeated Korea thanks to a well-balanced team effort on both ends of the floor. Bridget Carleton led the way, scoring a team-high 18 points, Natalie Achonwa contributed a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Kayla Alexander added 10 points and the Canadians received nine points apiece from Kia Nurse and Shay Colley.

Coming into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, head coach Lisa Thomaidis and her coaching staff have tweaked Canada’s offensive game plan, encouraging the team to play with more pace on the offensive end of the floor. Canada’s Olympics roster features a mix of savvy veteran players as well as explosive young players. It has talent inside as well as on the perimeter, and these offensive changes were made with the goal of maximizing the team’s strengths.

“We want to play with pace, we want to play with speed,” Thomaidis said. “The difference between being good teams and being great teams [can come down to] capitalizing on the advantages that we do get when we play with pace. I think we’re still continuing to improve in that area. It’s a big area of growth for this team. It’s a style of play we haven’t emphasized in the past, but it's leveraging the abilities and the strengths that we have.”

Things to know heading into Canada’s game against Spain at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

A tough task ahead: After falling to No. 7 ranked Serbia and then defeating No. 19 Korea, Canada faces its biggest test yet against No. 3 ranked Spain. The silver medallists at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Spain have gotten off to a strong start in Tokyo behind Astou Ndour’s 24.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. When Ndour isn’t suiting up for her national team, she plays for the Chicago Sky in the WNBA and will certainly be on the scouting report for Saturday’s game. The all-around play of point guard Cristina Ouvina has also been excellent for Spain. Ouvina is averaging 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in Tokyo.

Spain is the highest-ranked team in Group A, but Team Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis stressed that the preparation process remains the same. “Same way as we prepare for every opponent,” Thomaidis said. “We have a ton of respect for every team here. They are a team we’ve played in the recent past, we’re really looking forward to this match up for sure. They’re a team that has been on our radar for a while and we’ll be ready for them.”

Canada has had this matchup circled since the tournament schedule was announced. Spain defeated Canada in the quarterfinals of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2018 and the Canadians would like nothing more than to pick up a big win over their rivals here in Tokyo.

Playing with poise: Three-time Olympian Natalie Achonwa was instrumental in Canada’s 73-54 victory against Korea on Thursday. From her stifling defence to her steadying hand on offence, Achonwa provided the perfect dose of veteran poise and control whenever Korea made a push.

“Natalie was fantastic,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said after the game. “I thought again, just her poise and her basketball IQ and her toughness really shone through and was key for us.”

In addition to her 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, Achonwa also recorded a team-high five assists to go with a block and steal in just 23 minutes of play.

Prior to joining her teammates in Tokyo, Achonwa had been sidelined since mid-June after suffering an MCL sprain while playing for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. Despite the injury, Achonwa has been an integral part of Canada’s success, with her impact extending far beyond just her own statistical contributions. In Canada’s victory against Korea, the emotional boost that Achonwa passes on to her team was on full display. Her energy and constant communication was non-stop as she delivered constant encouragement to her teammates on both ends of the floor.

Back on track: After falling to Serbia in the team’s opener in Tokyo, Thomaidis talked about wanting to get back to playing the Canada Basketball way in the team’s next game. The team was successful in doing so against Korea, getting the win by leading with their defensive efforts. Thomaidis was pleased with the effort in Wednesday’s game, saying she felt the team was closer to playing 40 minutes of their brand of basketball. Achonwa agreed.

“I’m just really proud of our team and the effort [we put in,] and how we came back [from Wednesday’s loss],” Achonwa said. “Just learning from that, taking it into [Wednesday’s] game, we’ll do the same in the next one against Spain.”

Where to watch: Fans in Canada can catch all of the action streaming live on CBC Gem.